My Speech to the SMUHSD Board on NGSS

We must take action to stop educational experiments on our children.

Thursday evening, March 8, 2018 I was the opening speaker at the San Mateo Union High School District (SMUHSD) Board of Trustees meeting.

Speakers are limited to three minutes, so I had to prepare a “soundbite” speech which follows below.  Due to the seriousness of the issue, I wrote out a longer version of my speech and gave it to the Board in hardcopy.  That written version follows the “soundbite” speech  below.

At the end of the meeting, Board President Linda Lee Dwyer requested a future agenda item so that the Superintendent can report back to the Board as to why the district proceeded with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) implementation before textbooks aligned to those standards were available.  Apparently the Board was not made aware of this potential problem.

I have written elsewhere in this blog about some of the negative impacts of the NGSS decision.


 

3 Minute “Soundbite” Speech to the Board

My name is Dr. David Kristofferson.  Given the constraints, I have distributed to the Board hard copies of the speech that I would have given if I had more time.  I also have copies for anyone in the audience who may wish to have one.  My background is described therein and also on my blog at eduissues.com.

The Next Generation Science Standards (or NGSS) adopted by the district this year are creating problems.

At Aragon HS, for example, the physics teacher has all AP and no regular classes this year, while a chemistry teacher is helping develop a new physics program!

The chemistry teacher does not have a suitable NGSS-aligned physics textbook to use in this major endeavor because no such textbook exists!

Despite this major drawback, the district proceeded with the NGSS project which was described as “arguably the greatest reformulation of our science curriculum that has ever been undertaken.”

This is simply the latest in a string of curriculum changes imposed on the public dating back over 25 years as I have documented in an article facetiously entitled “Never Believe Educational Experts (or Me)!

Everyday Mathematics is another example from the SMFCSD.

Recently I was working with two students from different well-to-do families who went through this math program, but are now in precalculus.

The final step of a trig problem involved simplifying 1.5 * sin 30º.  Both students knew that 1.5 equals 3/2 and that sin 30º equals 1/2.

Amazingly BOTH students in separate tutoring sessions multiplied 3/2 by 1/2 and got 3/2 for the answer!  This is just one example.  I regularly run into lapses in basic math skills in otherwise very smart students!

Every year I tutor children in precalculus, calculus and physics.  The pace is extremely fast; consequently the learning is often superficial and quickly forgotten.

The amount of material covered is intense, and lapses in things like fraction multiplication skills are quickly laid bare.

This creates great business opportunities for the College Board, Kumon, the Russian School of Math, and tutors like me, but I am here tonight to argue against my financial interest!

Far too often curriculum changes are presented to the public as a fait accompli and then children and parents live with the consequences for years.

THIS HAS TO STOP!!

My goal is to ensure that these changes do not happen ever again without greater public input.

I am requesting that both local districts take no further action on major curriculum shifts in math and science without first sending out email or other notifications to parents when such changes are first under consideration.  This is very easy to implement and is a very modest request.  Besides parents, other interested community members such as myself should be allowed to receive these notifications.

If teachers on the curriculum committees do not have time to review the publisher-provided “research” and have to rely only on marketing materials during their textbook evaluations, I would be happy to volunteer some time to assist them in this regards.  I believe that there are other technically inclined people in the Silicon Valley area who could do likewise.

Thank you for your consideration!


 

The following text was submitted to the Board in hardcopy:

The Speech that I would have given to the SMUHSD Board of Trustees on 3/8/2018 if there was more time!!

My name is David Kristofferson.  I am a PH.D. level scientist and have worked in the software, biotech, and IT industries but am now retired. I was also a college teaching assistant in physics and chemistry, and a Peace Corps and a Bay Area high school science and math teacher.

Now as a part-time retirement hobby I tutor local children in high school math as well as physics and chemistry, so I see the impact of our education system first hand.

California has a checkered history of curriculum experimentation.  The adoption of Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) by this district and the adoption and abandonment of EveryDay Mathematics by the SMFCSD are more recent examples.  These changes seem to happen with such regularity that teachers with whom I speak often seem resigned to a “here we go again” attitude, but will not say so on the record.

The NGSS changes are causing problems, and I have been writing about this on my blog at eduissues.com for some time, in addition to meeting with district officials.  Articles from my blog have been made available to you in weeks past and via a summary email yesterday.

For example, at Aragon HS more students than in prior years are taking AP Physics.  The current Aragon physics teacher has five AP physics classes this year and is not teaching ANY regular physics.  Meanwhile the Aragon AP chemistry teacher has been tasked with putting together a new regular physics class at Aragon in collaboration with other district teachers.

Given five AP physics classes at Aragon this year and based on my past experience, it is probably a safe bet that many of these students should have been in the old regular physics class and are not doing well in the AP class.  I don’t have access to the overall data though.  In years past students had the option until fairly late in the first semester of dropping back to Aragon’s excellent regular physics class which was developed over many years by a master teacher who is now retired. This option is now gone due to the NGSS implementation.

NGSS was implemented even though there are no textbooks available that are aligned to those standards. However, because NGSS has not impacted AP classes to date, there have been no “squeaky wheel” AP parents to speak out!

  • I spoke to both Director Simmons and Superintendent Skelly and remain astounded that teachers were recruited to adopt this new curriculum without standards-aligned textbooks.
  • I have yet to learn what Board members thought was the rationale for making this science curriculum change without the availability of textbooks.
  • I also find it very hard to believe that teachers would sign up enthusiastically for a plan that would require the rewriting of years of lesson plans.

As another example of negative impacts, the SMFCSD tried to implement the “Everyday Mathematics” program for several years and then abandoned it.   I tutor smart high school students today from well-to-do and accomplished families that went through this program and cannot multiply fractions nor do regular multiplication in any form other than an algorithm that was unique to that program and which few other people understand!!

Everyday Math was supposedly “highly researched,” but when I personally looked into the research studies tabulated in the U.S. Department of Education’s “What Works” database, every single one of 92 studies was flagged as being statistically flawed.  However, a single study pointed “in the right direction” and the textbook publisher took that fumble and stretched it into a touchdown!  I doubt that any of the people involved in the curriculum evaluation examined the “research” because this would have been relatively easy to uncover.

Every time these curricular changes happen, children suffer, particularly when the mathematics curriculum is disrupted.

Lesson plans should evolve over time and change as a textbook is gradually revised by experts; it is complete folly to discard everything and begin anew with a totally different program in response to some test deadline or professor of education’s latest “findings.”

On my blog I have described a series of similar issues running back 25 years to when Whole Language Reading was in vogue.

Repeated experiments have been conducted on local children without the consent of their parents, frequently resulting in negative long-lasting consequences on children’s education.

My goal is therefore to ensure that these changes do not happen again without greater public input.

I am requesting that both local districts take no further action on major curriculum shifts in math and science without first sending out email or other notifications to parents when such changes are first under consideration.  This is very easy to implement and is a very modest request.  Besides parents, other interested community members such as myself should be allowed to receive these notifications.

If teachers on the curriculum committees do not have time to review the publisher-provided research and have to rely only on marketing materials during their textbook evaluations, I would be happy to volunteer some time to assist them in this regards.  I believe that there are other technically inclined people in the Silicon Valley area who could do likewise.

If this helps avoid several years of negative educational consequences on children it would be well worth it!

I see their problems one-on-one, face-to-face on a daily basis and have worked with some students for as long as six years in a row. I just wish that others could experience this as well and see the long term effects of these program changes; perhaps this would finally put an end to this incessant experimentation.

Author: David Kristofferson

Retired scientist, teacher, bioinformatician, IT director, software product manager, AAAS Fellow, avid cyclist (7690 miles and 724,300 feet of climbing in 2015), backpacker, you name it! Current avocation is tutoring high school students near San Mateo, CA in mathematics, physics and chemistry. Please see the Bio link in the right sidebar for my detailed background information.

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